I do not intend to, nor can I, speak of Judaism or Jewishness for all Jews; rather, here I intend to share my perspective as a Jewish person. In its history spanning millennia, Jews from all over the world have forged their own understandings.
Growing up, Judaism to me came to mean valuing knowledge and healthy debate, as well as working towards a more perfect world through fighting for greater justice, not just for Jewish people, but all people. Being young and only having limited wisdom, I had a sense that things were improving in the world for Jews. Surely only a few more decades, and antisemitism would be at all-time lows. How could antisemitism roar onward, at least in the United States, with atrocities against Jews taught about in routine fashion in school? In retrospect, this perspective was the result of great naiveté and the fortune and privilege to grow up in an area where I felt reasonably safe as a Jewish person.There is something surreal and terrifying about coming into greater awareness of the prevalence and severity of bigotry. I learned about the six million Jews who were tortured and murdered during the Holocaust of World War II, but this seemed to be an event that was far away. I also often reflected on the fact that so many were murdered during this time, far from being only Jews. This past decade of events in the United States and abroad has been very eye opening.
Watching political figures in the United States use antisemitic dog whistles on the national and sometimes world stage has been terrifying indeed. The phrases “New York values,” “globalists,” “cabals” (from the word Kabbalah, a school of Jewish thought), “Soros” (who is a Jewish philanthropist, but has been twisted into an evil caricature of Jews by antisemites) and even “coastal elites” are spoken proudly and loudly to millions across the world with sometimes little outcry. Many may not know what these terms mean, but scary as well is that those who know, know. That is, whereas I used to think antisemitism could be combatted down to an overwhelmingly minority view, rather it seems that antisemitism ebbs and flows, always just around the corner, ready to roar back.
In the past decade, antisemitic rhetoric in the United States (and abroad) has resulted in many violent actions against Jewish people, Jewish places of worship, and, for example, the defacing of Jewish gravestones with swastikas. Even popular celebrities and entertainers have uttered antisemitic phrases, seemingly feeling empowered to do so as antisemitism rises.
Beyond fear, there is a sort of mystery and shock that lingers in my heart concerning the level of hatred and the paucity of Jews left. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), there are now over one billion people in the world who are antisemitic. This is surprising to me and hard to account for considering that some estimate the number of Jews on earth currently as 15 million: only 0.2% of the world population. Yet, antisemitic people are steadfast in claiming that Jews control virtually all aspects of life. And even many of those who wish for another holocaust against Jews proudly and stridently deny that the Holocaust of World War II even took place, despite ample evidence and not even a century passing.
The ADL notes the following percentage of antisemitic individuals by region: in The Americas, 19%; Western Europe, 24%; Middle East & North Africa, 74%; Eastern Europe, 34%; Sub-Saharan Africa, 23%; Asia, 22%; and Oceania, 14%. These statistics give me pause about whether I will be safe when traveling, considering that in some regions 1/4 or 1/3 of people may hate me before I even arrive. Even in Germany, antisemitism is rising.
In fact, the ADL reports that antisemitism reached an all-time high in the US in 2022 with 3,697 antisemitic incidents (with the 2023 report yet to be released), the highest since they began tracking these incidents in 1979; in the past five years, this is the third time the yearly total has been an all-time high. Many Jews often wonder: how long will it be until there is another holocaust? How long can we remain in whatever country we reside in before we will have to flee due to a shift of public sentiment?
To be clear, bigotry must be combatted in all forms, and I strive to understand it to the best of my ability. I believe bigotry ultimately stems from a lack of imagination, a lack of clarity of thought, and in that spirit, I seek to understand bigotry the best I can. With the teachings of depth psychology in mind, I believe we are all part of a complex and beautiful tapestry. I have realized that though there is much darkness in the world, by learning about each other, with a truly open ear and heart, we may harness our light within to bring more light to us all. As Hillel the Elder, an ancient and wise Jewish scholar said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” With these words in mind, I remain committed to fighting for a more just and tolerant world for all of us, for I truly believe that we must rise together.
Dr. Jesse Jacob is the Director of Clinical Training for the PsyD Counseling Psychology Program. He teaches courses at Pacifica as well and has a passion for quality instruction. He developed this passion for education while at UC Berkeley for his undergraduate degree in German. There Dr. Jacob was trained and employed by UCB as a tutor, after which he spent a decade tutoring students in math, English, Latin, and German. He also has experience preparing students for the SAT and GRE. Dr. Jacob studied abroad in Berlin for one year and later taught English in Barcelona. He attained an M.A. in psychology from Antioch in 2013 and most recently a Psy.D. in clinical psychology from Pacifica in 2019. Dr. Jacob is passionate about psychoanalytic personality theory and psychological testing. He has served the community at a number of sites including The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and New Beginnings Counseling Center and appreciates the profound and positive effect mental health professionals can have on their communities.